How did London become the first metropolis to disappear?

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Go to the City of London on a Sunday afternoon and you will find emptiness. Street after street of emptiness. Nobody comes to the City, London’s financial district, on a Sunday.

The irony of this is that the City IS London. The boundries of the City are the same that marked the Roman settlement of Londinium, established nearly 2000 years ago. The City is where London first started to breathe and grow and develop into the teaming metropolis that it has since become.

Under the modernist, brutalist layers of the Barbican Centre, lie not only Roman foundations, but Tudor foundations too. It was here, in the bustling Barbican of Tudor times, that Shakespeare lived, in Cripplegate, and wrote Hamlet.

The City is where Londoner’s endured the greatest calamities of the metropolis’s history. The Church of St-Giles-without-Cripplegate, which sits, preserved, within the concrete womb of the Barbican, survived not only the Great Fire of London in 1666, but also the Nazi bombs of the 1940’s, which obliterated the rest of the area.

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This church’s canny skill of self-preservation allowed not only Oliver Cromwell to marry at its altar, but also allowed Rick Wakeman to record The Six Wives of Henry VIII, in the church’s nave, a century later.

Today the population of London’s historic heart is just 8,000, out of an overall population of nearly nine million, a number that has stayed static for decades.

It is surprising that anyone still lives there at all, in this cavernous mass of offices and sandwich shops.

There are over forty Eats and Pret a Mangers within the Square Mile and there are probably more on the way. That is one to serve every 200 of the City’s population, which is quite a good ratio of sandwich coverage.

But, civilisation does cling on and people do live there in the penthouses that sit at the top of the ever taller office blocks and in the beautifully appointed apartments of the Barbican.

I once even met someone who lived in a converted flat in the spire of Christ Church Greyfriars, the bombed-out church at the top of Cheapside, which was left partly in ruins as a memorial to those who died in the Blitz.

This is, to say the least, one of the City’s more unusual desirable residences, sitting as it does above the grave of Isabella of France, the so called ‘She-Wolf’ and original femme fatal, who was married to Edward II.

The rise of global finance and the power of the City of London Corporation and Parliament’s reliance on it as the economic engine room of the country, led to the sanitisation of this very crucial slice of London’s history.

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The very centre of wider London, sits not in the City though, but under the statue of Charles I in front of Trafalgar Square. The statue of the beheaded King was torn down in the wake of the Civil War and the Roundheads ordered that it be melted down. The canny merchant who bought it though, buried the statue in his back garden and returned it to Charles II on his restoration in 1660.

It is from this spot that the accession of future Kings and Queens of England will be announced, but the monarch too, just like the workers in the City, is a commuter. For long periods of time Buckingham Palace is empty, turned over to millions of tourists, while the Queen reigns from Windsor or Balmoral or Sandringham.

Go to Chelsea or Kensington, or any of the more well healed inner suburbs of London and you will find emptiness too. Street after street of houses bought up by millionaires and billionaires, who use them once in a blue moon whenever they are in the city.

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Go to County Hall, the imposing building that sits opposite Parliament, the former home of the powerful and independent Greater London Council and you will find only fish. Tank after tank of tropical fish. It was converted by Margaret Thatcher into an aquarium in the 1980s.

Pretty soon you won’t even find Parliament in Parliament. The Commons and Lords are all set to move to allow a multi-billion pound restoration to take place.

The centre of London has been hollowed out and turned into a playground for bankers and tourists, while the real people, the lifeblood of the city, have been pushed further and further out into the endless outer suburbs.

The pulse of the city can now be found in its extremities rather than at its heart.

As Patrick Keiller, in his excellent 1994 documentary film, ‘London’ writes, ‘for Londoners, the City is obscured. Too thinly spread, too private for anyone to know. Its social life invisible, its government abolished, its institutions  at the discretion of either monarchy or state or the City, where at the historic centre there is nothing but a civic void, which fills and empties daily with armies of clerks and dealers, mostly citizens of other towns.

The true identity of London is in its absence. As a city it no longer exists. In this alone it is truly modern. London was the first metropolis to disappear.’

USSR 1991 – A Conversation with Keizo Kitajima

06/06/1991, Nevelsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR: Larissa Romanov, 20 years old, works at a clothing factory. In September 1983, the Soviet Air Force shot down a Korean jet off the coast here, killing more than 200 people.
06/06/1991, Nevelsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR: Larissa Romanov, 20 years old, works at a clothing factory. In September 1983, the Soviet Air Force shot down a Korean jet off the coast here, killing more than 200 people.

In Keizo Kitajima’s new collection, USSR 1991, there is a picture of a blonde girl with dark eyes standing on the side of the River Neva in St. Petersburg. Her clothes look surprisingly modern despite the 21 years that have passed between the images being taken and their publication. Only the caption gives it away: “Yes, the name St. Petersburg is fine,” 22 year old model Silvia Myznikov says, “but I’m not used to it yet.” Born when the city was still known as Leningrad, Silvia absently turns a monumental moment from history into something like an inconvenience at the post office.

Before his arrival in Russia, Keizo spent his career producing picture collages of life in Shinjuku, a district of Tokyo and hotbed of underground culture and politics, where he created twelve booklets of photographs conveying the aura of the time. He also produced a seminal collection of images of New York in the 1980s. This new collection of photographs, taken on a trip through the USSR in 1991 and gathered together by Little Big Man Press into a lovingly crafted book, captures ordinary people living through a period of great upheaval. “Compared with the dramatic change of a political system, the tale of each individual’s life is very small,” says Keizo, “however I wanted to ensure the photographs valued these people’s stories.”

23/9/1991, Baku, Azerbaijan SSR: Andrei Titov, 16 years old. A Russian boy whose father is a Soviet Army officer and whose mother is a physician.
23/9/1991, Baku, Azerbaijan SSR: Andrei Titov, 16 years old. A Russian boy whose father is a Soviet Army officer and whose mother is a physician.

Depicting the re-evaluation of imposing and strong objects of state, suddenly rendered small and laughable in the wake of political revolution, it is often the individual who is at the foreground of these photographs. “I imagined that the collapse of the Soviet Union gave the Russian people an unfathomable shock,” says Keizo, ” and I tried to make a symbolic iconographic image of the people I met, based upon each individual’s tale.” Like the old paintings of Tsar Nicholas II that place the monarch front and centre his coat decked in garter ribbons and trinkets signifying royal power, the people here stand by icons of their respective trades: a woman in a red cardigan stands by a green loom in a silk factory bankrolled by Charles Aznavour, while a man in a blue flat cap with a wrench in his hand works by the gnashing teeth of a Siberian logging machine.

History is the landscape from which individual stories rise, like, for example, the story of Larissa Romanov, a 20 year old clothes factory worker. She is photographed in Nevelsk, a fishing town located on the southwest coast of Sakhalin Island in the North Pacific. During its history the island has passed between Russian and Japanese sovereignty so Nevelsk is also known by its Japanese name Honto-Cho. “A Korean Air jet was shot down by the Soviet air force offshore here in September 1983, 200 people, or more, were sacrificed,” Keizo says, before adding, “for me this photography represents a hybrid scenery, in which various histories are piled up.”

29/09/1991, St. Petersburg, Russian SFSR: Sylvia Myznikov, 22, was born in Leningrad and has been a model for five years. "Yes, the name St. Peter'sburg is fine, but I'm not used to it yet" she says.
29/09/1991, St. Petersburg, Russian SFSR: Sylvia Myznikov, 22, was born in Leningrad and has been a model for five years. “Yes, the name St. Petersburg is fine, but I’m not used to it yet” she says.

Whilst Keizo asked many people to pose for portraits, not all accepted, “but all those that did seemed to show me their pride,” says the photographer. That pride is clear in the portrait of Dzhuma Redzhepov, a 65 year old, who made rugs with pictures of celebrities on them. With two etchings of Stalin hanging above him, he stands in a cluttered living room, the lapels of his blazer lined with medals won during the defence of Stalingrad in World War Two.

“I thought that I should try not to forget the people of the USSR I met that year,” Keizo adds, and his photographs offer a vivid reminder of those people who didn’t live for the Soviet Union, but nonetheless tried to live as best they could within its fabric.

8/6/1991, Yuzhno-Sakhalnsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk suburbs
8/6/1991, Yuzhno-Sakhalnsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk suburbs
Photography Keizo Kitajima

Thinking Nollywood – Icons In A Wasteland

A woman with milky white irises stares blankly towards the camera. A human hand protruding from her mouth, like the tail of a calf trapped in the jaws of an anaconda. An old woman sits by a barred window, in a rocking chair, two golden coins resting in her eye sockets. Her fee for the boatman to ferry her to the underworld. But she doesn’t look dead.

A badly burnt body rises from a car wreck and a vampire taxi driver cradles his latest fare. While a man sits dressed in black, with a black top hat. White paint coated thick around his eye’s he seems to resemble Baron Samedi the voodoo master of the dead, giver of life and healer. He sits, the king of his own domain amid the empty Total oil barrels and rotting mattresses.

These are images created and photographed by professional photo-journalist Pieter Hugo and are partly inspired by Nollywood, the trail-blazing Nigerian film industry whose shoestring budget and dynamically creative sensibility is taking the continent by storm. The compositions also owe a large amount to Nigerian myth, character and a visionary imagination, fired by a parched, empty landscape that helps give man-made images more potency. As Pieter highlights “I wanted to use the Nollywood aesthetic as a starting point; its theatrical and performative quality, the spectacle of it. Fictional reality presents us with opportunities of reinventing ourselves. That’s beauty.”

Nollywood, is the third-world successor to its decadent father on the Californian coast. It is the third largest film industry in the world, producing nearly 1000 films a year for the home-video market, with an annual turn over of nearly $500 million. Some of the films are made in as little time as a week, with limited budgets, on location on the streets, in real homes and offices, among the people. Script errors are left in, the storylines are often shockingly convoluted and the picture quality is questionable.

Nevertheless, it’s got the excitement of Hollywood in the thirties. The industry is booming and Nigerian stars are in the ascendant. The centre of the industry is an area called Surulere, a dusty bedraggled, district, buried within the Nigerian capital Lagos. You are more likely to find open sewers than a star lined boulevard, but the area serves the same purpose as Hollywood’s chic towers. Surulere’s fading colonial leftovers, hide a melee of casting couches and thousands of young hopefuls mill around waiting for their chance.

The country has always had a strong film industry by African standards and government help has always been available in one form or another. The National Film Corporation was set up in 1979 and promoted distribution, and more importantly implemented a system where cinema owners had to show at least one Nigerian film for every ten foreign films presented. This helped create an audience for home grown cinema and ensured that Nigerian film did not go unwatched in favour of more glamorous fare from foreign shores.

The western reaction to Nollywood is confusion and Pieter’s book will play a role in the continuing discourse. Is it art? Or just throw away soap-opera? “Nollywood doesn’t give a fuck about art” says Stacy Hardy, who contributed an essay to a book that presents the Nollywood photos. “It doesn’t even care if you think it’s art. Nollywood is it’s own medium of corroboration, a means of self affirming and self-creation, speaking up. It decimated Western divisions of hi and low culture of creation and enterprise, of production and distribution.”

Nollywood confounds the expectations of the western view of film making. To us the film is still sacred. It’s an art-form passed down from Marnau to Chaplin from Capra to Cassavetes. Whatever taboos we break, films are still presented around the same basic rules of script, setting etc. No matter how crude, they have a particular quality. They must ultimately respect and be reverent to the fact that they will play upon the “big screen”. The Nigerian industry has no reverence for our traditions but then again why should they?

Interestingly, one of Pieter’s pictures shows a naked man, alone in the empty, barren, Nigerian landscape, wearing only a Darth Vader mask. A famous western cinematic symbol upon a body totally unhindered by western decadence, representative of an African culture that intends to be influenced by the west but not so much that it loses touch with itself. Losing its original form to gluttony and obesity.

Horror is another favourite genre for Nollywood and Pieter’s images show their fair share of gore. Vampires appear quite frequently, feasting upon numerous victims, or just staring empty eyed into the camera. These aren’t the vampires of John Polidori though, the suave landed gentry vampires, who go for the genteel lay-dees, who wine and dine them before going for their necks and trolleying them off to the land of the un-dead. No, these vampires are bit more danky, they forego the night at the opera and jump you in the dark alley by the post office.

The vampire myth is taken slightly more seriously in parts of Africa than it is in the west though. As recently as 2003 there were riots in the African country of Malawi over fears that the government was colluding with vampires. One man was stoned to death and reports of alleged vampire attacks swept the country. Nollywood and Pieter’s use of them is of course a nod to the role they still play in the African occult, but there is also much deeper reasoning behind their usage.

Stacy Hardy describes them as “slippery creatures” who jump between the boundaries of the living world and the afterlife. They have no respect for longstanding lines and rules, they hop between them and confound expectations like Nollywood itself. Stacy writes in the book “ The obsession with strictly defined boundaries haunts Western conceptions of subjectivity, perhaps the vampire, the figure who lives crossing lines, messing with those boundaries, tells us something about how they are made and how they can be ripped down.”

They also perhaps represent our, the Westerners relationship with Africa. We are often voyeurs to African suffering. We gaze at our television screens at images of slaughter and genocide and half turn away, but keep one eye on the screen. “Urgh isn’t that kind of barbarism ugly” we think to ourselves, but will we, personally act to stop it. Of course not, we are just craning our necks to get a good view of the car crash, having a good look at the body before the police arrive.

We keep one eye on the screen because we are witnessing how the other half lives, it’s a million miles away from our comfortable lives and we thank heavens we are not with them. It is after all only natural, we are interested in witnessing it and stuffing our charity envelopes, but from a sensible distance. We are still intrigued, fascinated even by the “black continent”, but it’s the Rivera still for our holidays. We refuse, as bloated, recklessly moneyed, western nations to salvage Africa, to write off debt. We invest yet we ensure a healthy amount of the profits return home. We quite happily feed off Africa’s struggling body, so are we the vampires? Possibly.

For years and years we have been bombarded with images of African butchery, civil war after civil war, famine after famine. These are now old images. Things do change. Situations do improve dramatically. Just the fact that Nigeria has a film industry worth millions is an example of change, that an African nation now deals partially in showbuisness and not bullets. But imagine yourself in a suburban middle class British home, telling your suburban middle class British neighbour that you are about to take the children on holiday to Nigeria and what will the reaction be? A howl of derision and furrowed brow? Old perceptions are difficult to overcome.

Hugo’s pictures highlight these responses, these perceptions within us and Nollywood happily mocks our ignorance. As Stacy Hardy says, the photographs “ force us to acknowledge our icky vampirism.” It is up to the individual to decide of course if Pieter’s images, the blood, the gore, the age old symbolism involved,  actually furthers long-held perceptions, by showing images based around age old myth and blood letting.

The Nollywood landscape is often a desolate one, empty, the natural magnificence that springs into the mind of the casual tourist when he thinks of Africa is missing. No this landscape is barren, a wasteland, yet it is full of intriguing figures and dynamic, sometimes unsettling icons. As T.S Eliot says in his poem The Waste Land “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats. And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief. And I will show you something different from either. Your shadow at morning striding behind you. Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you.” Thrilling images amid an empty landscape, cheaply made to entertain the masses.  A repressed nation by war, colonialism and poverty, finally finds its voice.

Images By – Pieter Hugo

Listen to Marylebone!

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I recently moved from the near suburbs to the city centre and the change has been louder than I expected. I used to think the idea that the city never slept was a cliché. That if you went to Piccadilly Circus at 4am on a Monday morning then you would find something approaching emptiness.

After two months living in a top floor flat at the upper end of Wimpole Street in Marylebone, I can confirm that the city does indeed never sleep and for a while, until I got used to it, neither did I.

Perhaps the most surprising noises come from the sports cars and motorbikes that seemingly peep their noses out of subterranean garages at midnight and fly down the street at ferocious speeds, seemingly for no other reason that it is easier to get away with that kind of thing late at night.

Then there are the sirens from the ambulances making their way to University College Hospital or even to the mysterious London Clinic at the end of my road, England’s biggest private hospital, where hooded figures limp out of limousines and Range Rovers and into waiting wheelchairs.

There are helicopters, drunks, parties, delivery wagons, late-night road works and a reverberating dial tone from some unknown telephone that projects into the street and echoes down it when someone tries to make a call.

The bells of the St Marylebone Church, two streets away, toll the hour, as well as every half and quarter. They also toll to mark the start of the Sunday service.

There are 63 sets of bells in Westminster, including those in the Royal Courts of Justice, the eighteen bells at Fortnum and Mason and the Swiss glockenspiel in Leicester Square.

In fact, it is nearly impossible to live anywhere in Westminster without hearing bells, especially when Big Ben can be heard all the way to Pimlico.

Imagine living across from a large Swiss glockenspiel that bursts into song every fifteen minutes though. The one in Leicester Square is wirelessly controlled from Derby too, so going at it with a pair of wire cutters isn’t going to get you anywhere fast.

The strange thing is, that after a rocky start, I think all the Marylebone noise is helping me to sleep better. Once all the noises are settled in your mind, they become a kind of scored symphony, a familiar tune, that is able to lull you into sleep.

If a note is missing then the melody is broken and London certainly has many notes to play, with its ‘pulse like a cannon’ as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. London is certainly a city that never goes to sleep.

From Virginia Woolf to Flann O’Brien – A literary patchwork quilt

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Changing from one literary world to another can often be a wrench. Quite a lot of time is devoted to reading a book from cover to cover and when the imaginary world that you have invited and invested yourself into caves in and dies on the last page, it is difficult not to feel bereft, especially if the jump from the old world into the new is particularly jarring.

I recently finished reading At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien and started to read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

When it comes to plain facts, these two books have quite a lot in common. They are both heavily influenced by James Joyce’s Ulysses. They both circumvent literary style, moving forwards and backwards in time and switch quickly from the perspective of one character to another.

Swim-Two-Birds is a ford in the River Shannon between Clonmacnoise and Shannonbridge, a place where you can cross the river more easily and find your footing. Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse sixteen years after finishing Mrs Dalloway.

And yet, the actual emotional affect on the mind that these two books have couldn’t be more different.

If you jumped from At Swim-Two-Birds to Mrs Dalloway, you go from witnessing Mad King Sweeney be driven insane by St. Ronan’s curse, banished for ever to fly about the Irish countryside like a bird and live in the trees, to watching dead headed summer flowers bobbing up and down in a vase of water in a summer drawing room.

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Neither Virginia Woolf nor Flann O’Brien ever wanted those two images to collide and they have done so now purely by chance and will, possibly, never be conjoined again, except in my memory.

These two pictures are now part of a composite patchwork quilt of imagery that one collects over a lifetime of reading. Patch after patch of seemingly unrelated images that come together, ultimately, to form a single garment, which is the backdrop to your life.

The book that links these two novels together, Ulysses, is a book which, like many people, I am familiar with, but have never actually finished. It is seen, perhaps incorrectly, as being the Mount Everest of the literary world. The final peak you have to conquer before you can class yourself as a well read person (with honours).

But Ulysses, much like Everest, has become worn down and overwrought by challengers. Base camp is strewn with rubbish and the old paths to the summit are becoming a little worn and tatty.

There are new, more recent challengers to the crown, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, for example, and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Both fiendishly complicated. Both seemingly never ending.

‘Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home,’ writes James Joyce. No matter how many perspectives a book tries to bury you in, no matter how many complications and twists and turns, you are always going to run into one recurring character, yourself.

La Valse – Painting Pictures with Music

Let’s for a moment accept all the clichés of what one generally assumes turn of the century Paris was like: tea at Maxims, ladies with parasols, Art Nouveau and the Moulin Rouge. And now imagine a Parisian concert hall in 1894, packed to the rafters for a premier of a new piece of music by that master of classical impressionism, Claude Debussy. The piece being performed is Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune. It is a beautiful symphonic poem which conjures an image of someone day-dreaming away a summer’s afternoon. It brings to mind the feeling of lying in a field listening to the birdcalls, listening to the sifting of moving air through summer leaves, the feeling of the heat of the sun on your face and the momentary desire to have your senses overthrown by nature.

 

 

The piece at the time of its premier was ridiculed, booed at, and dismissed as “darkly crazy, modern music.” You might not think that to hear it now, to the untrained ear it sounds just like any other piece of “classical” music, but this prelude arguably gives birth to the modern musical craft by embracing musical ambiguity and a whole host of combinations of chords, keys and harmonies. Brought together, these notes create lush, convoluted and colourful soundscapes, which transport music from the black and white into Technicolor.

The melting of musical clarity into a hazy intoxicating smoke that Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune represents, came only right at the start of this progression. Ultimately the tonal fences and walls, which had restrained musical experimentation in the past would crumble, leaving music unchecked and able to run free in a jungle of unnatural sound and hallucinatory sounds.

Maurice Ravel’s La Valse is another piece, composed a few years after Debussy’s work, that uses expressive music to paint a vivid picture. The form used is the waltz, which was, by 1920, the year of La Valse’s creation, unfashionable and outdated. Ravel grabs it by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into it, before demolishing the old form waltz with a brashness that forges new and old together successfully. The music also represents the collapse of the old European order into the horrors of the First World War.

La Valse grumbles and bounces and sways to begin with, bringing to mind a dusty troupe of aged aristocrats, in a neglected ballroom. They are grouchy at first, but then they start to get into it. Society beauties regain their finesse, marquises and counts, regain their gentrified polish. Marie Walewska arrives, in a flourish of trumpets, walks over to the Duchess of Parma and slaps her across the face. She drops her champagne, the glass shatters on the floor and the attendees stop and turn and stare. Then the orchestra kicks in, all powdered wigs and livery, as the aristocracy rises and falls to the traditional waltz. But then the floor starts to shake, the walls crumble, debris fall to the floor and a chandelier whistles from ceiling to ground.

The doors burst open and in pile hundreds of soldiers, Cossacks, bombardiers and Prussian cavalrymen. As artillery pounds, the waltz struggles to be heard, but it fights on, the old order still dance, dresses and shirts blooded. As shrapnel flies into the engines, and the waltz whirls around erratically like the rotors of a downed helicopter, fighting against slashing strings. The bombs fall and the floor cracks and a great dark abyss can be seen, the waltz has one final bristle, one last gust, one last gasp for survival over the din of war and pillage, and then the whole affair tumbles into immortality.

 

 

Constricting Interiors – Chantal Akerman

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Je Tu Il Elle

Who was Chantal Akerman? She was a renowned Belgian film maker. She was born in Brussels in 1950 and she killed herself in Paris a few weeks ago.

When a journalist from Village Voice asked Julie Christie, (the actress from Darling and Don’t Look Back and a name to anyone under thirty no doubt just as mysterious as Chantal Akerman) what film she would take to a desert island, Christie replied Jeanne Dielman.

Akerman made Jeanne Dielman , 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles when she was twenty five and the New York Times called it the ‘first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema’. It features the collapse of a woman’s routine over three days, as she attempts to look after her son, while paying for his upbringing through prostitution. The film critic John Coleman said that ‘the film’s time span covers Tuesday (stew and potatoes), Wednesday (wiener schnitzel) and heady Thursday (meat loaf and Jeanne has an orgasm and kills her client with a pair of scissors).’

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The film was followed by Je Tu Il Elle, which is about a young woman who lives alone, writes letters and eats powdered sugar.

But this is all biographical information, it doesn’t answer the question…who was she? She had green eyes. Strong eyes. She was pretty when she was younger, a cross between Charlotte Rampling and Doris Lessing. She had a number of nervous breakdowns. Her mother died last year. She had been recently hospitalised for depression.

These are the major things, but we’ll never know the ‘almost nothings’ that made her day to day and together formed the backcloth of her life.

We know she was nomadic, the often labeled ‘Belgian film-maker’ found it difficult to settle down and stay put. She produced work in Eastern Europe, Mexico, China and Israel. She was Jewish and like all people born within its orbit, the Holocaust and its aftershocks were a constant presence in her life and memory. Her mother had survived Auschwitz, while her mother’s parents had perished.

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The Holocaust influenced her work, how could it not? In her 1989 film ‘American Stories – Food, Family and Philosophy’  Akerman presents a patchwork quilt consideration of European Jewish culture. It was noted by the American film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, that American Stories was dominated by exterior shots, which was not, Rosenbaum concluded, Akerman’s natural medium. Instead, the critic said, Akerman was much more suited to the constricting interior.

Akerman, the dweller of the concise interior? It is a charge that does appear to stand up to scrutiny. Her films often feature a dark constricted corridor or a small flat bedroom. But, if the physical appearance of her work on the screen is full of barriers and constraints, her narrative style, the way she tells a story and perhaps the way she lived her own life, is much more musical in style.

Every shot lasts as long as it should, nothing feels overwrought or overstretched. An image stays as long as it should stay and then, she cuts, and it disappears.

Not Made Manifest

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A sea breeze blew the music charts from a horseshoe of silver stands sending pages of yellowing staves and treble clefs slicing through the air.

I told Greta that clothes pegs might be needed but she begged me to stop concentrating on the tiny details and consider the larger picture. She ordered me into the undercroft of the hall to carry out several stone heads of musical notables that I had to arrange on a four tiered table top, each head facing a different direction, to create the impression of a gaggle.

Nothing is more disheartening than the giving of a concert to an audience that isn’t listening and as I weaved my way around the cabinets at the reception for the Governor of Barbados, the talk was of anything but the music.

Maria, leaning against the curve of the curved room, she said was only there because an empty Sunday would have left her with too much time on her hands and I said I was tired of working. So we took on our roles and she started to talk about flirting, while I adopted the style of a connoisseur, as the cable car ticked from tooth to tooth in the thin mountain air.

The air was cold, we sipped in the cold air, as the sculpted miracle, garlanded with fairy lights, was guided down the steps. The patriarch passed guarded by lines of green dragoons. The sensation in the flesh is never as fascinating as a sensation in the air and nearly everyone saluted as the man of the moment moved through the crowds.

It’s strange, but of all the things I learned that night, the fact that carousel means little battle in Spanish is what still sticks in my mind. The magic of life is in the skirmishes.